‘Sanctions Are Preferable to War’

I’m not done with Andrew Sullivan yet. You’ll recall this from Friday:

I’d say it means we need to tighten the sanctions, especially on gasoline. If we can economically strangle the theo-fascists, it’s far preferable to war.

You hear this sort of thing all the time in American foreign policy discussions, even from liberals who, unlike Sullivan, sincerely want to avoid war. And it has a whiff of reasonableness to it, in that strangulation may be preferable to being shot in the forehead. After all, while death in the latter case would likely be instant, strangulation is gradual, which may give the victim time to comply with the aggressor’s demands (if the aggressor’s primary desire is robbery or rape, not killing for the fun of it) and halt the process. But would anyone deny that both the gunman and the strangler qua strangler are on a deliberate path to homicide?

There’s a whole literature on how sanctions almost always fail to accomplish regime change, how, in fact, they usually consolidate power at the top while crushing those at the bottom, those least capable of bringing down the regime – children, the elderly, the poor, the sick, imprisoned dissidents. Everyone knows that by now, even Andrew Sullivan, so I won’t rehash those data and arguments. What I’m concerned with is challenging this notion that sanctions are on some separate plane of action from war. It represents a real failure of imagination on the part of the world’s policemen, who never pause to consider how things must look from the other end of the nightstick. Would any of you liberals who say sanctions are an alternative to war maintain that line if sanctions were applied to you? What would you think if some foreign behemoth – uni- or multilateral – encircled your country by land, sea, and air in an attempt to choke off, say, fuel imports? For all of you econotards out there, gasoline isn’t just for trips to the beach and NASCAR races: food and medical supplies, among other things, don’t just sprout wings and fly to where they’re needed. Iran has to import half of its gasoline, so we’re talking about inflicting serious damage on the country’s civilian infrastructure (forget about crippling its military: militaristic regimes from D.C. to Jerusalem to Tehran always coddle their killing machines, the rest of society be damned).

Sanctions are war, and that’s why Antiwar.com will not run any piece that calls for sanctioning even the most dangerous regimes. Iran has lived in the shadow of Israel’s nukes for decades now: the ever present threat of annihilation unites Iran’s mullahs, middle class, and moneyless in fear if nothing else. I’m sure they’d love to see sanctions applied to Israel’s rogue nuke program, but you won’t see us calling for that, because, yes, Virginia, some people are genuinely antiwar. Of course, it is instructive to watch the hysterical reactions from Israel’s amen corner every time some pissant non-state organization with no army threatens Israel with a meaningless (though certainly stupid) boycott. It’s OK to strangle Iran, in the sanctions-proponents’ own words, but flip off Israel and it’s a hate crime.

Here’s a proposal: the next time you see some plan for “us” to “deal with” whichever “them” we’re all supposed to hate at the moment, substitute the U.S. or Israel – lords of mayhem both – in “their” place and see if the plan is still palatable. Would you support strangling ordinary Americans or Israelis if their governments launched heinous, unprovoked attacks on other countries? If their governments had massive stockpiles of nukes, the only WMD that truly is one?

Well, would you?

One thought on “‘Sanctions Are Preferable to War’”

  1. so your saying that nukes are the only WMD out there, so in your opinion it would be fine if someone used VX gas then? because its not nuclear so it most not be a mass destruction weapon.

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